Sunday Nibble #15: Things I’ve learned in lockdown

Random observations so far.

  1. People are definitely observing social distancing here. I had to go to an outdoor ATM but there was someone already there when I arrived. Although there are two machines, they’re less than six feet apart, so I waited way off to the side until he finished, then used the other machine for my transaction. When I was almost done, another person came along, and they waited off to the side as well. That’s how you make it work.
  2. I noticed the same thing when I popped into the Rite Aid next to where I live. It was almost like everyone was wearing a powerful electromagnet set to the same charge — we were all visibly veering away from each other, or backing out of aisles where someone was shopping in order to choose an empty one.
  3. I have had some really heartfelt conversations with store employees lately. On the aforementioned Rite Aid trip, the young clerk and I went through the “How are you doing?” “Good, and you?” “Good” charade but something in me just suddenly made me say, “You know what? Actually, not good, but I’m hanging in there. How are you doing?” And it was a great moment of actual human emotional contact with masks and a sneeze guard between us as we both talked about what was going on in our lives and how we were dealing with it.
  4. My dog has become fascinated with my hand-washing ritual, since it’s the first thing I do every time I come back inside, whether it’s been to walk her, or to grab a quick necessity. She never really used to do this, but for a couple of weeks now, she’s been following me into the bathroom and just standing there staring up at me as I do the twenty second (or more) wash. It’s kind of like she’s looking at me as if to ask, “Daddy, are you okay?” and she does seem a lot more concerned about checking in on me at random. I think she can sense the weird state of depression and ennui that has settled on me.
  5. I baked for the first time in a long time. It’s something I used to do often, but got away from. I’ve always cooked, though, and have cooked a lot of my own meals for the last three and a half years or more. But when a couple of bananas I’d bought went overripe, it was time to make banana bread — social media told me that’s a thing we’re supposed to do in lockdown. I had to improvise, though, because the two eggs I still had had gone bad. They’re not supposed to be green inside when you crack them open, right? That, and I didn’t have brown sugar, so it was white sugar and molasses, plus milk and oil for the eggs. (A chef friend told me later that mayo can also be used as an egg substitute. Who knew?) But I found the entire process to be very therapeutic.
  6. I’ve learned the weird whys about things that are in short supply. The very brief version is that the supply chain balance between commercial and consumer use suddenly shifted far too quickly for production to catch up — huge drop in commercial, huge surge in consumer.

Here’s the deal: TP and paper towels are used in ridiculous amounts by all commercial businesses, because they have to have bathrooms for employees and clients. Regular people, not so much… until quite a lot of us were no longer going in to work or patronizing those businesses. But… the bumwad you use at work or in the subway station is not the same quality as that you use at home, and doesn’t even come from the same factory.

It’s the same story for things like eggs and skim milk. Most of the eggs were going to the restaurant and commercial food industry, since they are such a common ingredient and, like TP and paper towels, the commercial suppliers weren’t the ones shipping to grocery stores. Why would they be when, say, the entire chain of Denny’s restaurants in a region might be ordering something like half a million eggs a week, while an entire chain of grocery stores might only be ordering twenty thousand in the same geographic area? (Source: numbers pulled out of my ass.)

Also, a lot of those eggs are also going into the processed foods you eat, and the baked goods, and that’s also where the milk winds up. But, as you’ve probably noticed, while you can now find 1%, 2%, and whole milk with ease, there’s still no non-fat or skim milk to be found and that’s because, again, the vast majority of it was going to those baked good and processed food companies — who are still cranking things out, even though you can’t find hamburger buns but there’s plenty of bread. And why do they hog the skim milk? Simple. To improve their fat and calorie numbers in the Nutrition Facts boxes.

Same story with butter, which you can’t find, versus margarine, which you can.

  1. I’ve also learned which food items are popular and which aren’t. Apparently, people love Swiss cheese and aren’t so fond of cheddar. If you’re looking for bean and cheese burritos, good luck, but all the other kinds are abundant. Any of the chocolate adjacent Pop Tarts are gone, but there are plenty of fruit flavors. If you want your canned tuna in water, sorry — but tuna in oil and the low sodium version are all over the place. You can’t clean your counters or wipe your ass, but you can blow your nose. And if you’re looking for frozen fruit, don’t set your heart on my favorite: raspberries.

Damn. Who knew that I actually shared the public’s taste in cheese and frozen fruit? I’d always thought that I was an outlier.

  1. Gas has never been cheaper, but I haven’t had to fill my tank in more than seven weeks, and it may still be another month before I have to again. (I last filled it one week before the lockdown so, yeah — that tank is pretty gassed.)

Welcome to the first Sunday in May, and thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

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